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The Lion boys' swimming team hopes to place in the top-three overall at the NWOC meet

PMG FILE PHOTO - St. Helens standout swimminer Ryan Maher and the Lions hope to place in the top-three of the Northwest Oregon District.The end of St. Helens' swimming campaign is actually just the beginning of something perhaps bigger.

Over the next two weeks, hopefully, the Lions will rise to the level of the Northwest Oregon District competition at the district title meet and send a handful of swimmers to the Class 5A state championship meet. And heading into future, surely, St. Helens is bullish about what's to come.

Head coach Chelsie Orr is an ambitious thinker with sizable goals and multi-pronged plans for the present and the long term. Since the season is coming to an end, her goals for the Lions would be two-fold. First, last year at the district championship meet Orr's dream was for St. Helens to place in the top three overall for both the boys' team and girls' team. They achieved that with the girls' squad, but the boys took fifth. This year she wants to see the boys find their way to the top three, which would put them up there with Parkrose and Scappoose. That's doable, surely. Jake and Ryan Maher are talented and tough in-between the lanes with a team-first mentality when they suit up for St. Helens. Both are 'A' final quality swimmers at the state meet and capable of putting up big points on their own merit. Their talent when it comes to relay time is invaluable. Matt and Isaac Reed, who moved from Scappoose, have added depth and ability to the lineup as individuals and relay team members. Nick Brooks is a valuable contributor and a key component to St. Helens' relay triumphs. The relay teams aren't scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to looking for able-bodied, district final qualifiers.

Second, Orr would like to work more on training in the off-season. She wants to encourage team members to join the Sea Lions Club team so they can continue their training and not lose any ground gained during the regular season.

"PMG FILE PHOTO - St. Helens swimminer Molly Wheeldon and the Lions hope to place in the top-five of the Northwest Oregon District.We have a few other tricks up our sleeves as well," Orr said with a smile.

Orr said the past couple weeks have brought the Lions to the height of their training for this season. At this point, the distance they are training in practice will decline as they go into a taper (or rest) period. The tough practices have revealed who's ready for the season's stretch run and who's ready for the year to wind down with an eye toward the spring.

"The last couple of weeks have shown us who can push through when things get tough and who hops out of the pool to rest," Orr said.

Orr said a good majority of the team have swum well and had some standout races while getting new best times. However, there are a couple who have stepped up and stood out recently, specifically a pair of youngsters who are adding to the Lion cadre of promise.

"Alexus Burgoine has fire," Orr said. "She is a sophomore who has some club experience when she was younger. She has great technique and is a workhorse. She is versatile and competition only makes her more excited."

Also, in just his ever first year swimming on a team, Orr said freshman Joseph Norris has begun to shine in the pool.

"In the first 11 weeks of practice he never missed a day," Orr said of Norris. "His hard work in practice has started to pay off. He dropped over 31 seconds in his 200 yard freestyle just in January."

The Northwest Oregon Conference is cutthroat, especially when it comes to making cut times for the state meet. Over the next couple of weeks, Orr just wants to see the team finish strong and with integrity while displaying the same high level of sportsmanship that's synonymous with the St. Helens swimming teams. The Lions are strong enough to flourish under the gun. They can swim at their best when the competitors next to them are just as determined to see their season last another week. Orr wants them to believe in themselves, to put stock in all of those laps they put in over the course of the year, in all the sacrifice that comes during the season. They've earned the opportunity to compete at the district level. Now, it's time to show and prove.

"Districts are just over a week away and it can get intense," Orr said. "I want the team to show us they can continue to stay focused and go out there and rely on their bodies and muscle memory. When they get nervous before a race that training is what will help them get to push through and perform at the level I know they can reach."

St. Helens has a three-way meet with La Salle at the North Clackamas Aquatic Park on Friday at 4 pm. The NWOC district championship meet is next Friday and Saturday at Parkrose High School.

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